Paul Williams

Phantom of the Paradise

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One of the best and most outrageous rock & roll movies of the '70s, Brian DePalma's Phantom of the Paradise was an updated adaptation of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera (years before Andrew Lloyd Webber staged his own version), with Paul Williams as Swan, a powerful and decadent rock tycoon who manipulates a reclusive genius into a rock opera for the opening of his new venue, only to turn him into a fearsome enemy. In addition to playing Swan, Paul Williams wrote the songs for the film, and while he clearly understood the alternately seamy and glamorous milieu his character inhabits, Williams was a gifted pop craftsman but never a real rock & roller, and despite the very real wit of tunes like the '50s pastiche "Goodbye, Eddie, Goodbye," the Beach Boys put-on "Upholstery," and the hard rock opus "Life at Last," this music sounds less like rock & roll than stuff that's supposed to remind a listener of rock & roll, and it works better in the context of the movie than it does as an album (not unusual for a film soundtrack). Despite that, Phantom of the Paradise is still one of Williams' most entertaining and adventurous albums of the '70s, as he branches out melodically while replicating different sounds and genres, and with vocal contributions from Jessica Harper and Raymond Louis Kennedy (the latter voiced the crazed hard rock hero Beef, played hilariously on screen by Gerrit Graham), he shows he can write well enough for characters that perhaps he could have written a decent for-real rock (or pop) opera. Good fun for fans of the movie, and an interesting detour in Paul Williams' career as a songwriter and oddball pop culture icon.

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